Tilson Assists Methow Valley Broadband Action Teams to Strategically Fund & Plan for improved Coverage

Overview 

The Methow Valley Broadband Action Team is a volunteer group focused on improving broadband access throughout the upper Methow Valley region in Washington State. In the southern reaches of this area the electric utility, the Okanogan County Public Utility District, has a fiber to the premise network with limited reach, but in upper Methow Valley Internet access is mostly provided by fixed wireless, DSL, and satellite. Fixed wireless is challenged by the mountainous topology and heavy foliage and DSL is oversubscribed, hindering new connections.

Challenge 

The Methow Valley's challenges include dramatic differences in Internet access speeds available depending on specific location, and therefore dramatic differences in residents' ability to participate in digital opportunities and the economy. Even the fastest Internet access speeds available in the Methow Valley fall below the State of Washington's recently codified policy goal of 150 Mbps symmetrical access (by 2028), and many residents have access to nothing other than satellite Internet access. The motivation is to bridge the digital divide for all valley residents so they can work from home, learn from home, have access to a modern level of emergency communications in an area prone to wildfires and enjoy modern conveniences such as streaming media.

Solution 

Tilson has mapped out a path forward for the Methow Valley that includes participation in one or more major federal funding opportunities such as the USEDA CARES Act funding, the next round of the USDA ReConnect program, and/or the FCC RDOF Phase 2. Complementing that funding opportunity with additional financing from the formation of a special assessment district, such as a local utility district, would allow the Okanogan County PUD to expand their existing fiber to the premise system throughout the valley, utilizing the utility poles of the neighboring Okanogan County Electric Cooperative. There are several successful examples of other Washington State PUDs leveraging both federal funding and local utility districts to extend fiber to the premise networks and Tilson has familiarized the Methow Valley Broadband Action Team with the funding sources and special assessment districts that have been successful regionally.